When you need to carry more passengers or larger items, but aren’t keen to end up looking like driving a minivan (nothing against minivans, but you know…), a three-row SUV is a very practical alternative. In fact, mid-size SUVs these days just offer more capabilities than a normal minivan due to their all-terrain nature and engaging powertrains.
But, with many great options to choose from, it’s not always easy to decide which one to get, especially if you’re on a tight budget. To help you with that, here is our top-three list of the best three-row mid-size SUVs you can get your hands on for less than $35,000 in 2021.
1. 2021 Kia Telluride
Starting price: $32,190
|Engine||3.8-liter V6 naturally-aspirated engine|
|Power||291 hp||Torque||262 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||20/26/23 MPG city/highway/combined||Seating Capability||7/8|
|Passenger Volume||155 ft3||Towing Capacity||5000 lbs.|
|Cargo Volume||21 ft3 behind third row;
46 ft3 behind second row;
87 ft3 behind front row.
The 2021 Kia Telluride is a US market exclusive, and it sure presented itself carrying the features that the modern American family needs in a mid-size SUV. It has a great and durable interior quality, a gigantic passenger and cargo space, and a decently powerful and efficient engine.
The V6 unit is the most powerful on this list. It is quite punchy and turbo-lag-free thanks to its naturally-aspirated habit. Accelerating from 0-60 mph is good at around 7 seconds.
Furthermore, the interior provides plenty of space. In terms of cargo space, it is the largest on this list. It occupies 8/7 adult passengers comfortably as well, and no one will complain about a lack of headroom or knee room. More than just offering comfortable seats, everything you touch in the cabin feels solid, and it is full of high-tech features as well for its class.
Safety-wise, airbags and driving aid features are plenty to find, even from the lowest trim. The warranty is also class-leading, especially with the 10 years/100,000 miles drivetrain warranty. This makes opting for the extra $1,700 AWD model almost a no-brainer with the long-term maintenance bill out of the equation.
If you do not fancy the Telluride’s look, its fraternal twin 2021 Hyundai Palisade is basically the same vehicle underneath. It comes with the same engine, chassis, safety bits, and warranty, but in a less sporty and posher packaging at a fairly similar price.
2. 2021 Honda Passport
Starting price: $32,790
|Engine||3.5-liter V6 naturally-aspirated engine|
|Power||280 hp||Torque||262 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||20/27/23 MPG city/highway/combined||Seating Capability||7/8|
|Passenger Volume||152 ft3||Towing Capacity||
3,500 lbs. (FWD), 5,000 lbs. (AWD)
|Cargo Volume||16 ft3 behind third row;
47 ft3 behind second row;
84 ft3 behind front row
Although its exterior design starts to age, the 2021 Honda Pilot is still one of the best three-row SUVs you can have. Its V6 engine is still very supportive and delivers positive performance. Honda also ditched the old 6-speed automatic gearbox to a tighter ratio 9-speed. As a result, 0-60 mph takes just 6.2 seconds, the quickest on the list.
The interior space is just a few cubic feet less from the Telluride, and the 8-seating standard configuration makes it as practical. Although, the third-row passengers may have less free room compared to the one in its Korean rival. Nonetheless, the interior quality is so-so, and the cargo space is still one of the best in its class.
However, if you opt for the entry-level trim, you are getting neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto connectivity, which is a bit disappointing. At least, Honda Sensing® safety and driver-assistive technologies are standard across all trims, so you do not need to worry about lack of safety.
3. 2021 Mazda CX-9
Starting price: $34,160
|Engine||2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine|
|Power||250 hp||Torque||320 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||22/28/25 MPG city/highway/combined||Seating Capability||6/7|
|Passenger Volume||135 ft3||Towing Capacity||3500 lbs|
|Cargo Volume||14 ft3 behind third row;
38 ft3 behind second row;
71 ft3 behind front row
With the smallest interior space on the list, the 2021 Mazda CX-9 is targeted towards buyers who seek a sleek exterior design and fun-to-drive experience. The engine might be the smallest on the list, but it is the most economical. The turbocharged 2.5-liter still delivers a solid performance with a 0-60 mph acceleration figure of 7 seconds. Also, its accurate steering and firm suspension make it the sharpest to drive of the bunch.
Step inside, you will see why it has such a high price for its entry-level. The interior quality will amaze you with its plush design and soft-touch plastics on the most-used surfaces. Moreover, you will find the 10.3-inch infotainment system that’s pleasing to use, thanks to its easy navigation and crisp graphics. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, HD Radio, and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming are integrated as standard too.
However, the cargo space is alright but not the largest. The passenger space is slightly cramped, especially in the third row, where people over 5.5 feet would suffer from lack of space. The second row’s headroom and knee room are also barely forgiving, but it is still fine for carrying three adults. Nonetheless, if you just need an occasional three-row SUV, the CX-9 is ready to reward you with an outstanding driving experience.
Sadly, your tight budget may barely even afford you the lowest FWD trim, with AWD costing an extra $1,900. But at the minimum, Mazda is not compromising on the safety features, as they are still rich and plenty to find.
For under $35,000, you may just peek at the entry-level models of this list. However, even with more budget, we still think that the entry-level models pack a lot of punch.
In short, the Honda Pilot might offer everything you need in a three-row mid-size SUV. Sadly, its aging design and outdated standard features may turn you off.
The Mazda CX-9 is also a very strong contender, especially to those who don’t need such a large interior space.
But, the jack-of-all-trades title goes to the Kia Telluride, as it has the largest interior space, is well equipped with standard modern features, and has the most punchy engine and worry-free warranty.